Discourse on the intersections of politics, feminism, and motherhood.

Monday, June 12

"If Men Could Have Babies"

An article in The Observer on Sunday, June 11th has facilitated some interesting dialogue. The writer, Rafael Behr places fathers in the same position as mothers attempting to juggle parenthood with career. An expectant father himself, Behr relays the divergent attitudes that pervade the male psyche upon entering into the realm of fatherhood; punishment and/or complete and utter amore. Clearly, I don't have much patience for the individual who conceptualizes fatherhood as punishment as those particular individuals should most likely refrain from becoming parents, as best they can, until they are ready, but I do welcome a more complete investigation of self-sacrifice that both parents will inevitably make upon the birth of a child. Acknowledging that our culture's strict investment in traditional gender roles is no longer realistic and affects women, men, and children is a decent start. Behr's article balances the conflicts that women have always faced with that of the ones men are currently up against.

"Our society still prefers to define parenting by traditional gender roles. It has become marginally less taboo for men to stay at home, but usually they have made a straight swap in status with bread-winning women. Both parties are made to feel slightly freakish. Even after all the battles won by feminism the career/parent equation is still a zero-sum game - as if there is a finite amount of commitment a person can muster, and if they spend it on their work, they must be depriving their kids. Working mums have wrestled with that problem for decades. But only now, a couple of generations into the revolution, men are starting to enter the fray. Why, we are asking, does it have to be a choice? Why can't we have it all?

Unfortunately the workplace is putting up a fight hence why the Family and Medical Leave Act is utilized as a protectent for both moms and dads who choose to take time off. Women have battled discrimination in the workplace for decades and now men who choose to prioritize their children and families over their careers continually face antidiluvian foundations of backlash.

"It is also a risky idea. The evidence from women's experience of trying to integrate a bit of full-time parenting into a life of work is not encouraging. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, a woman who has worked part-time for just a year suffers, on average, a 10 per cent long-term reduction in earnings compared to a woman who has stayed in continuous full-time employment. Having sent a signal that work might not come first, employees are penalised for life."

Recently a debate ensued on ABC News regarding issues related to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The host was arguing that employers should be able to ask women during an interview if they planned on having children in the near future. His premise was that men's job committments are not as affected by the birth of a child as are women's given that traditional gender roles still pervade our culture. Caller after caller disagreed with the host stating both parties should be asked and that men also shift their priorities and change focus when becoming a parent. Even though this particular show had a conservative tint, as I don't think anyone male or female should be grilled about their personal choices during a job interview, the dialect affirming men's changing attitudes towards their jobs was telling.
The ironic issue here is when men are considerably affected by social policy in a negitive way, you bet that change will occur much quicker. It's like the funny little book I came across at a gift store, "If Men Could Have Babies." The author concludes that if men could have babies there would be coin opperated breast pumps at every gas station in America, birth control would be free for all, and health insurance would cover the cost of time off after birth. Though this is on the comedic side there is some truth buried there. It's all tied up in privilege. The bottom line is men enjoy certain privledges and women do not. While parenthood is being contested for both genders I wonder if these issues will just end up perpetuating the binary. Men will be revered for their family focused action and women will still be caught up in that old song and dance; The Mommy Wars.
And by the way, all the "battles feminism won," insinuates that feminism achieved its goals, if it did we would perhaps not be having this discussion.........Feminism is still battling and will continue to battle.........Do not get complacent!


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